Nokia hits out at WiMax

The high-speed wireless technology is hype, and bad hype at that, says the head of Nokia's wireless business programme

The tech industry is getting overheated about the long-range broadband access technology WiMax, according to one Nokia exec.

Markku Hollström, head of WiMax business programme at Nokia, said the technology had already been oversold: "WiMax is hype at the moment and it's pretty bad hype.

"From our point of view, it's a great technology," he added, "but not like it has been hyped."

Nokia is expecting the technology to take off as backhaul, as well as in mobile networks and devices. It's also hoping WiMax will mark a turning point in the availability and efficiency of mobile data. The Finnish giant expects even low-end handsets to be sporting WiMax connectivity by 2011.

Hollström said: "We see broadband wireless technology doing the same for broadband data as GSM did for voice. Cellular networks haven't taken off [for data] because cellular networks currently suck. Badly. It's our fault — we've done it badly."

Hollström also indicated that WiMax vendors to date have been particularly fond of mislabelling their products. "Companies want to label it WiMax. They are lying a bit. There is no WiMax in the world," he said.

Of course, before mobile WiMax really becomes mobile WiMax, the standard needs to be agreed. It's a problem that's been dogging the technology for some time, with the standard yet to be ratified and the WiMax Forum's projected date for the debut of the relevant 802.16 standard having slipped repeatedly.

The latest estimate for ratification is three to six months from now. However, even when the standard becomes official, Hollström indicated the industry won't take notice of the whole package. "It's 130 pages long," he said. "A lot of it is un-implementable. [Vendors] will select subsets of the standards and agree it with the rest of the industry."

Despite its fluid status, Nokia expects the first WiMax laptop cards to arrive in 2006 and 2007, while analysts have previously predicted that the mobile broadband technology could even pose a threat to 3G.

Vendors including Intel have been quick to deny any looming threat of cannibalisation. Gordon Graylish, director of Intel's communications business organisation, EMEA, said 3G and WiMax will complement one another.

Graylish said: "The way we see this working is WiMax coexisting with other technologies. It's a perfectly good technology... it's just not optimised to be a high-density data solution."

WiMax's potential to make blanket mobile VoIP a reality has also been shrugged off.

Dr Klaus Kohrt, senior VP at Siemens, said: "We don't think voice is mainstream for WiMax. It's not black and white, it's 80-20 — WiMax is 80 per cent data, 20 per cent voice." However, Kohrt added the uptake of mobile voice over WiMax will be largely dependent on service providers.

He said: "It's not so much a technology issue but there are technology constraints."